I tend to count myself as a discerning viewer of television. I watch so much of it in the course of my job that really, I only tend to tune in, for pleasure, to things that actually have merit, or re-watch shows that I consider to be artistically sound. Charlie Jade is one that I keep coming back to, Battlestar Galactica, the original series of Star Trek, all of these shows, I like to think, have a certain something to them that keeps me putting in a DVD or tuning in when they air. Now that it’s been a good month or so of consistently tuning in to True Blood’s second season, I think that it may be time to accept the fact that I’m hooked. The problem is, I’m not sure that I actually like the show, and I can’t figure out why I’m actually looking forward to watching it every Friday.
Because, let’s be honest, it’s not actually very good. The dialogue is risible, to the point where sometimes I have to wonder whether or not it’s actually supposed to be relatively satirical. Stephen Moyer’s Bill has to be one of the most inconsistent characters ever written for a major drama show, and at the same time, one of the inexorably dull as well. Anna Paquin really gives it her all as Sookie, and believes in it enough to get her kit off for the camera, but it still doesn’t change the fact that she’s a bit rubbish. Alexander Skarsgard phones in his performance in every episode, Rutina Wesley plays her one-note character of Tara to a monotonous pulse, Sam Trammell’s Sam Merlotte also has the consistency of weak soup and Deborah Ann Woll relishes her role as Jessica, but there’s only so much spit shine you can introduce to a tired boot. Notable exceptions include Nelsan Ellis as the multilayered Lafayette, and one of the few interesting characters on the show, Ryan Kwanten’s genuinely funny Jason Stackhouse, and Michelle Forbes, who is brilliant in more or less everything that she does.
But despite the fact that I’ve just spent the best part of 200 words giving True Blood a solid kick to the teeth, and the fact that I reviewed the first season in a not-particularly-pleasant way last year, I can’t seem to stop watching it. It’s become something of a weekly ritual now, and even though I actually don’t enjoy it that much, I still want to spend a good hour of my relatively sparse spare time in Bon Temps. Why?
I suppose it’s a testament, in many ways, to the production value of the show. Despite its ridiculous premise and pseudo-satirical characters, showrunner Alan Ball has managed to infuse the series with a lived-in feel, an immersive environment that defies all reasonable sense and somehow manages to check that box in your brain labelled ‘Plausible’. The picture quality has that slightly surreal HBO feel to it, while the shots aren’t exactly going to be called auteurish in years to come, but can be interesting nevertheless.
The enthusiasm of the cast comes across, as well, at all times. They seem to believe in what they’re doing, and for me, I can feel it in their performances. Perhaps this is just me, however. Working as journalist in entertainment, covering a show in exhaustive depth, reading all news reports about it and interviewing the people involved in making it tends to give you a different perspective than, say, someone who records it on their Sky+ and watches it a few weeks later. You become involved in the process because, despite your best efforts, you become a part of it. Every actor says that the production they’re on is the best they’ve ever worked on, that the cast and crew are like family, that it’s an important piece of entertainment. Literally every one. We’ve stopped asking people about their experiences on-set because we can almost guarantee, word for word, what they’re going to say. True Blood is different, however. While they say the same things, the cast seem to actually be proud of what they’re doing, and look forward to more. Getting fitted for your fangs as a guest star on the show is rapidly becoming a who’s who of B-list Hollywood, for instance, while Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer are actually engaged in real life now.
True Blood, despite its flaws, has an addictive quality to it. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what that is, and I suspect that’s because there’s no one overriding factor that defines it. People, myself included, often dismiss it because it uses its raunchiness as a gimmick, but I’d be very surprised if that’s why millions of people tune in every week and why it’s increased its audience episode by episode. Sex sells, yes, but porn is much more readily available than having to give up a chunk of a Friday night to watch the show. I think, and this might just be me, but its cheesiness and slight shoddiness has become a part of its charm. It has enough base level value to be classed as a step above something like Knight Rider, or New Amsterdam, or The Vampire Diaries, but watching it unfold is not unlike watching some sort of bizarre American Idol audition. It’s like seeing someone that you really shouldn’t be, but you can’t stop yourself. It’s like smoking because you can, it’s like junk food instead of a healthy lunch, it’s like buying trashy books because you just can’t face Jane Austen today, and it’s like reading crap magazines because you like the way the captions are written.
It’s not good, but for whatever reason, it works. And it doesn’t make any sense.